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Rugby League's African Explosion

Discussion in 'International' started by girvie, Dec 20, 2016.

  1. girvie

    girvie Moderator Staff Member

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    http://www.theroar.com.au/2016/12/20/rugby-leagues-african-explosion/

    Retired western Sydney truck driver Steve Warwick remembers the first time he approached a group of Africans about playing rugby league.

    “Honestly, they were looking down on me, just staring blankly,” Warwick says.

    “They weren’t interested in what I had to say and I’ll admit I was intimidated.”

    As a bloke raised in Bathurst, who spent the majority of his first 50 years either at footy clubs or stuck behind the wheel, Warwick concedes he was sheltered from issues surrounding refugees.

    It was purely out of necessity that he approached a group of African basketballers eight years ago.

    “The junior club I’m associated with, Blacktown PCYC, had just been banned for two years from signing any kids from existing rugby league clubs in the district,” he says.

    “It was quite a handicap and it meant we had to find a heap of kids who were new to the sport in order to field teams.”

    [​IMG]Credit: Sergio Montenegro

    Around the same time, Blacktown City Council had become central to the resettlement of refugees who were escaping atrocious conflicts throughout equatorial Africa.

    Warwick recalls the PCYC basketball court was filled with new migrants, while the rugby league outfit was in a desperate state.

    His initial approach – and subsequent rebuff – left him deflated, believing the new community had no love for league.

    “Then my wife, Cheralie, said to me ‘Don’t give up. Focus on the younger ones, not the bigger ones, and help them integrate into the community,’” Steve reveals.

    After the change of approach, there were immediate dividends.

    Warwick, who suffers osteoarthritis and emphysema, and has a stent in his heart, recalls driving the club bus to pick up one interested African boy from a block of apartments.

    When he arrived, eight kids jumped into the bus. As he drove off, a father hailed him down and put another child inside.

    It was the start of a journey that has helped change the face of rugby league in Australia.

    [​IMG] Credit: Sergio Montenegro

    Look around the fringes of the NRL and junior ranks in 2016 and you’ll have seen an African explosion.

    There are kids with names like ‘Pacific’, ‘Prince’ and ‘Praise’, bringing as much colour from their upbringings as their kaleidoscopic jerseys.

    Among the most famous is Wests Tigers’ Obed Karwhin, a native of Ivory Coast, who walked one month through jungle to escape war in his homeland and was later mentored by Warwick.

    Bulldogs under 20s player Jayden Okunbar and Parramatta’s Fairouz Elkander are others to have been given guidance by Warwick in their formative years.

    Elsewhere you have Ghana’s Yaw Kiti Glymin on the wing for St George Illawarra and South Sudan’s Chol Chol signing for the Melbourne Storm.

    Roaring Recommendations
    Historically, it’s hard to go past Nigerian descendant Martin Offiah as the most famous player of African heritage, while Moses Mbye and Jamal Idris have been the NRL’s most feted players of African extraction.

    The Queensland Cup has also been home to Selasi Berdie (Ghana), Chris Enahoro (Nigeria) and Gideon Mzembe (Malawi).

    But while these players were considered unique in the past, evidence suggests Africans playing top grade rugby league will cease to be an exception.

    “In 2012 we started the representative team Africa United, which brings together all the different nationalities,” says 58-year-old Warwick.

    “Of course some players are from Blacktown PCYC, but now we have guys from Newcastle, western New South Wales and Queensland.

    “It’s hard for us financially, as we don’t have much backing and a lot of the families arrive here with very little, but the players are extremely coachable… they want to learn.

    [​IMG]Credit: Sergio Montenegro

    “If we have a tournament, the players from rural areas will arrive a few weeks early and stay with family members. That’s how serious they take it.”

    Loyalty to the group and sense of pride is such that a number of dual-heritage players spurned the opportunity to play for South Africa in World Cup qualifiers.

    Though Africa United, as a composite team, cannot qualify for a top-tier World Cup, some players feel it better represents where they come from.

    Teenagers Daniel Dut and Obonno Obonno, from Caboolture, north of Brisbane, are even in the process of forming a team that will be entirely comprised players from South Sudan.

    So far they have enough players in under 18s to stand alone, and enough senior players from combined nations to form a Queensland chapter of Africa United in the coming year.

    “I left South Sudan when I was two and we had to travel north over two borders and spend four years in Egypt because that’s where the United Nations processing office is,” says Dut.

    “I can tell you, they don’t really like black people in Egypt.

    “But my parents said we had to get out of South Sudan because the police were corrupt and always raiding the neighbourhood. We would have been killed or arrested.”

    Now studying a diploma of business, Daniel said he thought he and Obonno were the only Africans playing rugby league, until he saw a Facebook post from Africa United.

    Indeed, Warwick’s groundwork in 2008 has paved the way for the unification of a community, one that now has far more binding it than a troubled past.

    [​IMG]Credit: Sergio Montenegro

    “I’ve got a real soft spot for these kids, as does my wife,” says Warwick, winner of multiple awards for community service.

    “There is one kid, Darlington, who my wife used to give a Mars bar to every time he scored.

    “He started at age four and now he’s 11, still coming to collect his Mars bars.

    “A lot of these kids have horrible memories – where everyone was shot – but we listen to them and give them an outlet.

    “And it’s made me a lot more aware of what’s going on in the world. Immigration is not a subject that can be treated lightly.”
     
  2. East Coast Tiger

    East Coast Tiger Coach

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    Bugger, thought it might have been about Africa.

    Still good. The Sudanese are ridiculous athletes.
     
  3. deal.with.it

    deal.with.it Juniors

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    Hearing that South Africa has just received $10,000 to develop further in schools.
     
  4. deal.with.it

    deal.with.it Juniors

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    Really enjoyed that article.
     
  5. adamkungl

    adamkungl Immortal

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    Before people start criticising the Sydney/Australia focus of the article.. keep in mind that after about 3 years of activity here the Latin Heat helped kick off some actual South American development. This kind of thing can work - think of it as attacking a problem from both sides.

    Not to mention the positive effects on people and multiculturalism the sport has here.
     
    Knownothing and paulmac like this.
  6. Knownothing

    Knownothing Juniors

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    Anything that gets young men off their butts and onto a playing field is a good thing.
     
    AdelaideSharky and deluded pom? like this.
  7. Golden point

    Golden point Juniors

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    Yeah misleading title. No international growth here, looks like the Australian team will have a African flavor in a few years. :pensive:
     
  8. IntRLEnthusiast

    IntRLEnthusiast Juniors

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    Although.. with the international eligibility rules where you can play for another nation if you don't make the Australian team it means that should some of those african nations get some games going they might have a bit of a talent pool to support that.
     
  9. Golden point

    Golden point Juniors

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    Great to see refugees taking up an Australian pastime. Emigration works when they integrate like these good young men ,however until steps ARE taken in their homeland that's all this is.
     
  10. latingringo101

    latingringo101 Juniors

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    I can only speak from a Latin Heat P.O.V.

    Ever since we've been involved in RL (2013) we have helped foster the growth of Rugby League among Latinos in Australia and in Latin America as well.

    Like Africa United, we have helped individuals from Latin America who were born or had family from there who have escaped hardships or for a better life here in Australia by using our sport to empower them and remember where they come from.

    This has also helped the game grow in Latin America as we now have development work happening in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia,Mexico and numerous other Latin American nations. Players have gone back to their homelands and helped run training clinics and send gear to the locals over there.

    I am sure in a few years Africa United will help bring about growth of RL in Africa as well.
     
  11. Golden point

    Golden point Juniors

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    That is absolutely fantastic. I knew of the latin heat but I was unaware that you have established a domestic competition in each of these countries so I take my hat off to you. I concede your point and look forward the the african countries having their own domestic competitions to feed national teams across Africa.
     
  12. Evil Homer

    Evil Homer Moderator Staff Member

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    They don't have domestic competitions yet, but there has certainly been some activity and matches played in Chile, Argentina and Mexico over the past year which is great.
     
  13. Golden point

    Golden point Juniors

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    So no one is playing regularly in any of these countries? Until you have set up some form of regular local competition any interest in the sport lives and dies with the ones driving the concept. I wish you the very best and I am extremely gelous that I am not in a position to help drive the sport forward as you are. I hope you can generate a local comp and if you can in just 1 country,that would be an amazing accomplishment and then the sport may continue to grow without outside influence. I wish you the best of luck.
     
  14. Perth Red

    Perth Red Immortal

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    Great article and massive raps to the guy involved, not so much for RL but for giving these kids hope and helping them settle into Australia. Id love to see the NRL do more in regards to bringing new migrants, be they refugees or others, into RL, its a big untapped market.
     
  15. AdelaideSharky

    AdelaideSharky Juniors

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    Hopefully the Syrian community embraces RL like the Lebanese community has with the Bulldogs.
     
  16. Foreign Legion

    Foreign Legion First Grade

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